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Deeper & Down – New England Patriots





This is probably the closest thing to a rebuilding or transition that the franchise has been in for a long time now. The defense has arguably as many needs along the line and at linebacker as

. That’s the bad news. The good news?
New England has eight picks to play with – including three second rounders.

You know you need help when: at inside linebacker, an undrafted player can rack up 85 tackles, your best pass rusher is a 29-year-old free agent who had a career year (managing as many sacks in 2009 as he did between 2005-08 combined) and contributes to one-third of the 31 sacks you can manage (joint 23rd in the league). For a Bill Belichick team that has pumped out so many notable defensive coordinators (Romeo Crennel, Jim Schwartz, etc), this is way below his standards.

A large part of this is because so many players have been cut, traded or finessed away in order to make salary room for a number of notable free agent and contract extensions. Vince Wilfork is unquestionably the singularly most important free agent in
New England and arguably of the league. Richard Seymour has been a big miss and will need to be replaced post haste, as will some quality at outside linebacker. Tully Banta-Cain should be retained, but is not the long-term solution. It’s possible that Julius Peppers, who has long been associated with a Patriots trade, could make the move this season, but until Wilfork is signed all bets are off and would expect no movement in that direction either until we see Casey Hampton et al get signed up – so Wilfork’s agent can use that contract as a negotiating chip with the New England front office.

Adalius Thomas will likely be sticking around, too. No, it certainly isn’t based on merit – he was pretty pedestrian last season and that’s being diplomatic. It makes you wonder if he ever fully recovered from his arm injury from the previous season. He certainly wasn’t the same player we came to expect from seasons past. Given his very amenable contract and salary you won’t replace him for anyone on the same money with any ease. So if only for frugal and financial reasons, he’ll be around. Who knows, maybe he just needed time to recover from the injury from last season?

Jerod Mayo was, is and remains the jewel in the defensive crown at Individual Defense Player (IDP) level. Alongside Wilfork, he is the most important player on defense they have. At the moment I’m still undecided on whether (1) Belichick has done it again; (2) New England spent more time than usual on defense and so increased his numbers above where they might otherwise have been; or (3) he’s a product of their system (a phrase I usually loathe), but the emergence of Gary Guyton from seemingly out of nowhere, has been one of the few pluses for New England this season. What will happen with him going forwards in 2010 is unknown, but Belichick has gone on record as saying they should’ve drafted him over Bo Ruud.

Also an unknown factor in 2010 is the MIA Shawn Crable, a former third-round pick in 2008 has yet to play a snap in the NFL due to injuries in both 2008 and 2009. A fit Crable would be a massive boost for a beleaguered linebacker corps and could be a sneaky pick-up post draft in IDP leagues – if healthy – as he could help immediately in generating the pass rush that
New England lacks on a consistent basis.

Just as the pass rush misses Richard Seymour, so the secondary misses Asante Samuel. The secondary is OK at best, which for the heady standards
New England have set for themselves in the past defensively means its poor. Leigh Bodden has done alright, but he is more a measure of success in terms of value for money than production. That said, his 56 tackles and five intensrcepti were a bigger help to the defense than Shawn Springs’ 39 tackles and one interception, and as such New England will likely offer him another one-year contract in order to be a “bridge” player. Jonathan Wilhite is good cover and capable, but similarly could definitely either improve or be upgraded. Regardless, they need a ball hawk of Samuel’s caliber here and the sooner the better. Of course the lack of pass rush has not helped hurry quarterbacks into making as many errors as the secondary would like and must also be considered a contributing factor to the poor return from the secondary in terms of interceptions and passes defended.

Brandon Merriweather continues to look good at strong safety, while Patrick Chung has shown himself to be an able player in his rookie season and looks set to build on that, giving
New England a decent safety pairing for the long haul.

Interestingly, Belichick (it seems) will be taking the reins of the defense this season after Dean Pees’ contract was not renewed – presumably based on last season’s poor performances (he’s now at Baltimore as linebacker coach). This signals two things – First, Belichick was not happy with the defense last season and wants to establish it again. Secondly, he sees a young core to his defense and will shape them into his image of the defense. Both of these are good things and speculation in the
New England defense/special teams (if available) wouldn’t be unwise for the farsighted.

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